Every Alabama student shall be given instruction in grades kindergarten through twelve to prepare him or her to enter the world of work and/or to complete course work at the postsecondary level. In addition to a comprehensive core curriculum of academics, each local board of education shall offer a program of vocational/technical education.
(a) The following words and phrases used in this section shall, in the absence of a clear implication otherwise, be given the following respective interpretations:
(1) REQUIRED COURSES. Courses which are required to be taken by every student enrolled in public schools in the State of Alabama.
(2) ELECTIVE COURSES. Courses which are neither mandatory nor required to be taken by any student enrolled in public schools in the State of Alabama.
(b) The Legislature finds that students must become more literate in the basic skills needed to earn a living or to continue their education. The Legislature further finds that the English language is a common bond that holds our society together. It is necessary that the State Board of Education adopt curriculum policies to ensure that Alabama students have a command of the spoken and written English language. The Legislature further finds that in Alabama schools, students earning a standard high school diploma are only required to earn two credits of mathematics after they enter the ninth grade prior to graduation. The Legislature further finds that special attention must be given to the Alabama courses of study. The State Board of Education shall establish a rigorous and meaningful core curriculum including, but not limited to, all of the following courses for grades nine through twelve in public schools to be phased in beginning with students entering ninth grade in the 1996-97 scholastic year:
(1) Four years (equivalent of four credit units) of English.
(2) Four years (equivalent of four credit units) of mathematics, including but not limited to material designed to ensure that no high school student fails to learn basic mathematical skills and computer literacy.
(3) Four years (equivalent of four credit units) of science.
(4) Four years (equivalent of four credit units) of social studies with an emphasis on history, music history, fine arts history, geography, economics, and political science. History courses shall include material on the history of the United States and the Constitution of the United States. The Legislature further requires that the curriculum content of American history shall include the teaching of important historical documents including the Constitution of the United States, The Declaration of Independence, The Emancipation Proclamation, The Federalist Papers, and other such documents important to the history and heritage of the United States.
(c) It is the intent of the Legislature that credit for required basic core academic courses may be earned in conjunction with vocational courses and/or programs. It is the intent of the Legislature that local boards of education offer and schedule students into vocational programs.
(d) It is the intent of the Legislature that, in addition to the required courses, elective courses including, but not limited to, foreign languages, fine arts, physical education, wellness education, and vocational and technical preparation be available to all students as determined by the local board of education. For purposes of this section, American Sign Language is a foreign language; a public school may offer such a course; and a student who successfully completes the course is entitled to receive credit for the course toward satisfaction of a foreign language requirement, pursuant to rules and regulations adopted by the Alabama State Board of Education. Beginning with the 2005-2006 school year, the preceding sentence shall apply to hearing-impaired students; and beginning with the 2006-2007 school year, and each school year thereafter, the preceding sentence shall apply to all students. Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to diminish the current requirements of the State Board of Education with respect to health and physical education instruction in grades K-12 or to reduce the effect of Section 16-40-1 regarding health and physical education.
(e) The State Board of Education shall adopt necessary policies, procedures, rules, regulations, and standards to require that:
(1) The required courses set forth in this section shall be taken by every student enrolled in grades nine through twelve of public schools to be phased in beginning with students entering the ninth grade in the 1996-97 scholastic year. The State Superintendent of Education after a hearing in which he or she determines there exists just cause may grant a one-time delay of one year for a school system from implementation of any one of the required courses.
(2) The required courses set forth in this section shall be successfully passed by a student enrolled in grades nine through twelve of public schools prior to such student's graduation or receipt of a diploma, phased in beginning with students entering the ninth grade in the 1996-97 scholastic year. Students identified as eligible for special education services as provided by federal and state law shall be required to meet the provisions set forth in the individual education plan prescribed to meet their individual needs as required by law. The State Board of Education shall continue to set graduation requirements; however, such graduation requirements shall not provide less in the way of requirements in the areas of English, math, science, and social studies as provided in this chapter.
(3) In addition to the required courses, a number of elective courses shall be successfully passed by a student enrolled in grades nine through twelve of public schools prior to such student's graduation or receipt of a diploma, phased in beginning with students entering the ninth grade in the 1996-97 scholastic year. The State Board of Education shall determine the number and classification of units of credit required for high school graduation.
(f) The State Board of Education, on the recommendation of the State Superintendent of Education, shall prescribe the minimum contents of courses of study for all public elementary and high schools in the state. In every elementary school there shall be taught at least reading including phonics, spelling, handwriting, arithmetic, oral and written English, geography, history of the United States and Alabama, elementary science, hygiene and sanitation, physical education, the arts, including musical and visual arts, environmental protection, and such other studies as may be prescribed by the local board of education. Instruction in handwriting shall include cursive writing so that students are able to create readable documents through legible cursive handwriting by the end of the third grade. Moreover, the State Board of Education shall require the following courses for grades one through eight in all public schools to be phased in beginning with students entering grades one through eight in the 1995-96 scholastic year: English, social studies, mathematics, and science shall be taught each year in grades one through eight. English shall include, but not be limited to, material designed to develop language arts, such as reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills. Social studies shall emphasize geography and history of the United States and Alabama.
(g) The State Board of Education shall adopt necessary policies, procedures, rules, regulations, and/or standards to require college and university departments of education to review their existing educational programs for all prospective teachers in order to ensure that they are properly prepared to teach the courses required by law.
(h) The State Board of Education and all local boards shall develop and implement within ninety (90) days of July 7, 1995, a comprehensive character education program for all grades to consist of not less than ten minutes instruction per day focusing upon the students' development of the following character traits: Courage, patriotism, citizenship, honesty, fairness, respect for others, kindness, cooperation, self-respect, self-control, courtesy, compassion, tolerance, diligence, generosity, punctuality, cleanliness, cheerfulness, school pride, respect for the environment, patience, creativity, sportsmanship, loyalty, and perseverance. Each plan of instruction shall include the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag.
(i) The State Board of Education shall adopt necessary policies, procedures, rules, regulations, and/or standards to ensure quality vocational/technical education programs.
(j) Each local board of education shall certify on an annual basis to the State Board of Education that the applicable schools in the school district are meeting the cursive writing requirements under subsection (f). The State Board of Education may adopt rules to implement this subsection.